Here's the anatomy of a perfect salad: an inch-thick slab from a purplish-red, grapefruit-sized heirloom tomato, bathed in peppery olive oil, perched on a meaty hunk of buffalo mozzarella and finished with fleur de sel . I enjoyed this late-summer offering last week at the Pearl's wine bar/bistro Vino Paradiso (417 NW 10th Ave., 295-9536) . However, every bite was a jarring reminder that summer '07 is just about cashed.
With chilly late-September evenings here, it's already time to think of comforting fall fare. Here are two shareable options that I've already warmed up to.
There are a couple of restaurants throughout the Portland metro area serving the Asian DIY soups generally called "hot pot" here in the States, but I haven't enjoyed any as much as the nabe (pronounced na-bay) at Biwa (215 SE 9th Ave., 239-8830) . Every Monday at this cozy noodle nook, which is tucked into the basement corner of former PDX house-of-rock La Luna, is Nabe Night —a build-your-own soup event ($18 to $23 depending on ingredients) that's ideal for comfy group dining. Using a table-mounted burner, we simmered our own private stew of baby bok choy, mushrooms, Japanese peppers, fresh tofu, strings of burdock root, chrysanthemum and thick slabs of pork belly in an aromatic ginger-spiked, pepper-specked miso broth that reduced and improved with every bite. The usual nabe includes pork belly and veggies, but owner Gabe Rosen changes up the repertoire with other offerings, including pork loin and clams. Factoring in lazy swills of Sapporo and slurps of heavily fermented Chinese black tea, the whole event lasted two hours plus change. Toward the end of the affair, our server brought a plate of starchy Korean sweet-potato noodles to finish off our first official meal of the looming wet season.
Across town, Steve's Cheese and Square Deal Wine Company (both at 2321 NW Thurman St., 226-9463) host a fondue-type peasant dinner that touts the type of fare you'd eat if you were Swiss and it were December. In group event that feeds 50, they take a wheel of raclette—a musky cow's-milk cheese that's similar to Gruyère—halve it, and face the open side toward an electric heating element that melts the hard cheese until it's good and gooey. Next, it's scraped from the rind, smeared all over crusty bread and served with a giant spread of cured salami and speck ham, duck pâté, boiled fingerlings and pickles. "It's an ancient version of modern fondue," says Square Deal co-owner Dan Beekley. I'm sold. It's cozy and the whole room reeks beautifully. Dinner costs $35 for all-you-can eat plus a selection of wines from Square Deal's impressive roster. Call for the next dinner.